Teaching Ahead of the Curriculum Banned in Korean Schools

This February, a new law forbidding teaching students ahead of the curriculum was passed in the National Assembly. It will go in full affect this September with the start of the second semester. For more background, read about the new law in English here or in Korean here.

A law regulating advanced curricular studies is passed in the National Assembly. (February, 2014)

A law regulating advanced curricular studies is passed in the National Assembly. (February, 2014)

Watch original video at JTBC News:

Anchor: From this September onward, students will be unable to study beyond the curriculum at school. Classes for advanced study are expanding at private after-school academies. On average, students learn material 4 years and 2 months ahead of their grade level. Due to this, the law aims to normalize public education.

Reporter: A notice is posted on a Gangnam, Seoul private after-school website. They are recruiting first-year middle school students for a medical school preparatory class.

Seoul, Daechi-dong, math academy advisor : “For classes like the med school prep class, we teach any mathematics that could appear in a high school level science track.”

There are also middle school students who are preparing for science fairs that are being taught grade 3 high school level physics and chemistry.

Seoul, Daechi-dong, science academy advisor: “Students study hard during winter vacation, so we aim to complete levels 1 and 2 in both physics and chemistry.”

One community group investigated 13 private academies in four districts with many of these after-school academies, such as Gangnam-gu and Nowon-gu. Their results show that on average, students are studying 4 years and 2 months ahead of their public school curriculum. This is three months more than last year’s average.

Analysts point out that the rise in demand in the private education market for after-school academies is influenced by advanced studies being banned in public schools.

Hanyang University professor of Education, Jeong Jin-gon: “Since regulations regarding advanced curriculum studies have been revised, there should also be a suggestion to private educational centers to follow suit and cease teaching ahead of the school curriculum.”

Comments from Naver:

The current education system forces you to study ahead of the curriculum. They are really irresponsible.


Crazy Korea, crazy education.


Ha ha ha ha…ke ke ke ke


Honestly, this policy is really ***…


It’s better to learn step by step and really grasp things than to impatiently study in advance.


Before making it impossible to study past the curriculum why don’t they try teaching properly? When I was in school, for something like math, teachers even assumed that we already learned it in advance at a private after-school academy. Does this make any sense?


Instead of this, it’d be nice if they do not make the tests more difficult than what is taught at school. Tests are full of questions that students who don’t go to private academies or get private tutoring can’t answer, yet it keeps being said that if the classes are made easy, and students just look at their textbooks they can pass the tests. It’s so frustrating every time there’s a test. So school teachers are encouraging students to take private lessons.


So then the sciences track needs to keep studying math until the very last hour right before the SAT? Really there are no words…


My god, so now only textbook material can be used as test questions. Why are there printouts not from the textbooks and questions not even learned in the books… You have to study ahead of the curriculum because of the tests… Really, teachers, only teach what is in the textbooks and only make questions from the textbooks, please.


Just get rid of public schools altogether. Is anyone really studying at public schools? No, we study at private academies… Schools are only good for the teachers…


Let’s just look at Math. In the high school science track, there is Math 1, Math 2, Geometry and Vectors, and Integrals and Statistics courses. Before taking SAT exam in the third year, when will there be any time to review? To finish the SAT in the third year of high school, the students have to have studied all four math units by their second year. Are you saying they shouldn’t have any time to prepare for the SAT? This is full of contradictions.


If you don’t study ahead, it’s hard to get into university.


Advanced math studies… I don’t really know anything but the curriculum keep moving forward quickly!


If they’re gonna do this, start with banning congress members from sending their kids to get advanced education.


Stop with the empty talk and reform the entire system from the roots. What’s been talked about doesn’t solve the problem of private education…


Is it really important to be able to do calculus or not? It’s okay to make them study more than 12 hours a day, but even without that, start with etiquette and safety education. There are too many kids who aren’t even learning the basics about being a human.

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  • MeiDaxia

    Really? They think advanced curriculum is the problem with the Korean education system? Are politicians the world over so ignorant of their respective education systems?

    This isn’t going to change anything, like one of the netizens said. It’s just gonna lead to studying ahead, rather than taking the course early. Or it’ll put pressure on Hakwons to pick up the teaching ahead slack. You know, I bet smart hakwon owners are already preparing for this by buying up the advanced curricula…

  • JJ

    [From the link provided] “The new bill is designed to address […] entrance exams for elite schools. Under the bill, Korean high schools and universities will be required to give entrance exam questions based on regular school curriculums. In recent years, many schools challenged applicants with overly difficult questions that often went beyond regular school courses. ”

    I wish KoreaBang had included this information in the actual article, because my opinion changed after I read this statement.

    I originally thought simply banning advanced courses won’t do anything, but if universities actually create tests based on a public school curriculum I can understand why the government believes it creates less incentive to take these advanced classes.

    However, even if the entrance exam is based on a regular curriculum, the government needs to look at the quality of education being offered. Many people go to hakwons, because they are not sufficiently learning during the school day. If parents and students felt they were learning during school hours, perhaps there would be less of a need for advanced or outside classes.

    On the other hand, perhaps it is better to look at Korea’s competitive nature. Why do people feel that going to SKY schools is the only way to do well in life? Or why do many believe that unless you get a job in a chaebol there is no job security? Maybe it is better to look into the culture surrounding education before making changes to a system that is no longer working.

    Too many thoughts and too many things to consider. I’m interested in hearing others’ opinions.

    • tomoe723

      I also had mixed feelings on the policy, but after reading the article and the comments, I can’t help but snort with them. Then reading up on that link and your cited excerpt, I wonder if that would have any effect at all on uni entrance exams. If it’s a public university, I suppose the government can also curb the way it gives out entrance exams, but this banning sure is very indirect. They ought to be taking a more direct approach instead of steamrolling everything along the way. I don’t think they can do anything with private universities though. If anything, I can only foresee bad effects at population intelligence if this goes through.

  • apoc01

    won’t this just further widen the intelligence gap between students from higher income families and students from lower income families? This bill can’t regulate education in hagwons and private schools so then what that means is that the kids who’d do well on the korean SATs and go to SKY are those who can afford to go to them. Like many have said earlier, this isn’t too different from the current situation.

    If anything, this bill just shot the last few chances of students from poor backgrounds their chance to go to a good school and a good future.

  • KCdude

    Passing a half-baked bill in the National disAssembly wouldn’t solve anything.

    I think Korea needs a strong sense of individualism to overcome the problems in the public education sector. The “follow what other rich, over-educated kids study” approach among mothers is a serious issue.

  • commander

    In a capitalistic society where monetary power overwhelms other important values, it is hard to rein in the fervent pursuit for success by the rich taking advantage of shortcuts.

    This is all the more relevant in Korean society where long-standing Confucianism valuing academic performance pushes the wealthy to get their children into costly private education as a leg-up for success.

    In real terms, it appears to hard for the latest ban on ahead of curriculum teaching at hagwon to subdue advanced study since the move will be highly likely to drive the outlawed private education underground, sending the already exorbitant fees for private education higher.

    A possible solution to a deep polarization in education between the haves and the haven’ts can be found in an idea: instituting public schools for talented children of poor family backgrounds.

    In a nationwide test, pupils can be admitted to publicly-funded schools for advanced schools if they shows strong and promising academic performance.

    The UK-style new schools are designed to give great chances for children who are able, but suffer financial hardship to realize their untapped potentials.

    The public meritocratic schools, a counterbalance against elitist private schools almost exclusive for children from the establishment, will only give admission to children from socially disadvantaged families.

    If the new schools are established and foster great intellectuals or other talents, it will build a meritocracy in Korean society with ensured equal terms for all.

    Also necessary is to enhance the quality of public schools.

    To sum up my view, prohibiting beyond-curriculum teaching at hagwon will backfires, resulting in the creation of underground private tutoring markets, bringing about opposite results of what is anticipated and making the rich people get disgruntled with education policy crafted by newly-elected progressive education chiefs in metropolitan areas, including Seoul.

    The effective remedy to bridge the polarized education between affluent and impoverished is to instituting public elitist schools where competent children from underpriviledged families are educated to demonstrate their potentials and to make contributions for the public good in the future when they grow up as leaders in the nation.

    • JJ

      I don’t disagree with the creation of such schools, but i think it will just mean everyone in the middle will be “SOL”- too poor to afford the expensive hakwon classes, but to “rich” to be considered for the school. Although I suppose this depends on what the income threshold is for this school.

      • commander

        All students would be eligible for a nationwide entrance test for the envisaged public elitist schools, but the lion’s share of admission would have to be granted first to children from poor families but with remarkable academic potentials.

        And the certain number of seats for the meritocratic schools may be given to students from other middle- and upper-class who demonstrate their academic potentials and want to learn great things under admirable educational philosophy.

  • Smith_90125

    The good of this policy is it will ensure the poor can have the same educational opportunities as the rich. Liars who say “let the market decide” and “people should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps” are hypocrites or deluded idiots.

    The bad of this policy is that kids who are capable of advancing quickly (kids who are nartually smarter, not those forced by rich parents) will be unable to learn faster. The human brain stops growing in the early teens, so if kids are capable of learning quick, they’re opportunities and abilities are going to be wasted.

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